President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Friday, May 15, 2015

Special Report: India's Tourism Policy Ridden With Loopholes, Falls Short Of Global Standards

The last National Tourism Policy came 13 years ago. The new draft is being pushed out in barely two weeks.

The Union government is increasingly bulldozing through policies and bills in a tearing hurry. The latest, following on the heels of the child labour and juvenile justice bills, is the National Tourism Policy.

The Union tourism ministry put up a draft of the policy on its website on April 30 and gave the general public only 10 days to respond.
It may be unveiled as early as Friday. It has been 13 years since the last National Tourism Policy was announced, incidentally by the same ruling party. But this dispensation wants to push the new one through in barely two weeks.

As was the case with the child labour and juvenile justice bills, the National Tourism Policy too falls hopelessly short of international standards. It is out of sync with the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, also called 10YFP, of the World Tourism Organization. The 10YFP is a global framework of action designed by the United Nations agency to enhance international cooperation to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production in both developed and developing countries.

The programme, launched on November 4, 2014, provides a direction for tourism: it seeks cooperation between various stakeholders for the development and implementation of innovations and good practices in resource-efficient and low-carbon tourism planning, reducing the loss of biodiversity, conserving ecosystems, preserving cultural heritage, alleviating poverty, and improving sustainable livelihoods.

Sustainable world
The UNWTO initiative is more than just a programme – it is a reaffirmation of the benchmarks and guidelines that have dominated the global tourism industry ever since it started looking at the world through a different prism. This paradigm shift came about, as in the case of many industries, in the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Rio Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

Since then, the discourse at the international level has unequivocally veered towards a sustainable world. The global tourism industry realised that we have been exploiting resources beyond our means, leading to the introduction of the concept of sustainability. “Sustainable tourism” is no more a niche sector of the industry. Sustainability is the only way forward. Sustainable tourism is no more an end in itself; sustainability is the only means towards that end.

The other development was the launch of the Guidelines on Biological Diversity and Tourism Development, adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2004. The UNWTO in 2009 decided to integrate the CBD guidelines with all its projects, transferring its principles, mechanisms and tools to all stakeholders involved in tourism development and biodiversity conservation.

Consulting the community
Since all these developments took place after the National Tourism Policy 2002, it was only natural to expect the new tourism policy of India to reflect the current trends at the international level. But, this is where the draft policy fails.

The word “sustainable” figures 11 times in the 50-page document and “biodiversity” not even once. The draft policy keeps reiterating that it is important to look at issues and economic growth in a sustainable manner, but all through leaves out key elements that definite sustainability.

The draft says that its objective is to “evolve a framework for tourism development, which is Government-led, private sector driven and community welfare oriented”. This is where it becomes problematic, since the last of the stakeholders have been kept out of the loop.

Democratic policy-making
It is important to understand the nature of the tourism industry, for it is not like any other. It is not an industry that produces anything by itself. It is a tenuous and intangible thread that runs through all other industries. It is affected by anything that happens in any other sector. A rise in cotton or textile prices can push up upholstery/housekeeping costs for a hotel. A rise in fuel prices can have an adverse impact on tour operators. Food inflation has an immediate effect on both restaurants in hotels as well as standalone ones. In short, the industry’s future lies in the hands of everyone else.

Look at it in a different way: it is a parasitic industry. Its well-being depends on that of others. Yet, its scope is huge and it touches the lives of countless people. It is an important and influential industry – one that can call the shots since it indirectly fills the coffers of most other industries. Nevertheless, tourism in itself is not about industry players; it is about everyone else.

It’s the latter whose voices find no mention in the draft policy. Yet, this is nothing new since it seems to take off from where the reports of the Steering Committee on Tourism (2007-12) for the 11th Five Year Plan and the Working Group on Tourism (2012-17) for the 12th Five Year Plan had left off. The composition of both these panels had been industry-dominated, and had left out other stakeholders, i.e. the communities that the draft policy and the two reports repeatedly parrot about.

A network of over 30 civil society organisations has criticised the process and called for a democratic process of policy-making. But given the regime’s aversion for NGOs, it is quite unlikely that the ministry will take cognisance of their comments. The National Tourism Policy 2015 is as good as here.
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